Sunday, 6 November 2011

Abuja: A Thoroughfare?

IB 2011 Participants during the training session (by Tom Saater)

Today was premised on things-are-coming, the feeling that comes from imagining the future. When I woke, for instance, I told myself the obvious: The journey has begun, and today is the tomorrow I thought of yesterday. Okay, I lie. I could not have thought so eloquently as soon as I woke up. We slept a maximum of four hours apiece, and even that was luxurious – Emeka slept only two hours (I caught him dozing later!)

We had an appointment at the National Hospital Abuja, a training session for emergencies and first aid. Unoma had arranged for the session with the gracious assistance of Dr Wole Olaomi, Head of Trauma and Head of Surgery at the National Hospital, whom she had met at Ile-Ife, where they had both been invitees of my friend Damilola Ajayi. Our breakfast was hurried for this reason. Uche and Amaize prepared scrambled eggs; there is, really, nothing like scrambled eggs made by men who know how to make scrambled eggs!

Our National Hospital stint requires great elucidation given how important safety is, and how there is no point, for us, in trying to prove a point in the conflict areas in which we are headed. Dr Wale Olaomi taught us basic and practical ways of saving saveable victims. The distinction is important, he pointed out, and I must point that out too. The problem with dealing with trauma is too much emotion, which is a general human deficiency anyway. Logic, Dr Olaomi says, dictates that a First Aider decide whether the victim is worth the effort or not. My heart is saying this cannot be possible – I have lived in several vicarages, I believe in miracles. Yet my head told me Grow Up, not everything can be saved.

Thinking in retrospect, writing this, the fact that not everything can be saved jumps to me as a major lesson from our first session with Dr Olaomi. The First Aider must assess the situation, the scene, and the victim. Such messiah (permit me) must think of personal safety. It is like saying, I cannot die while trying to keep others from dying. This, again, negates everything I have thought about altruism. Being a First Aider is premised on voluntariness, the whim of a Good Samaritan, and yet we were told the virtue of wanting-to-help is not enough. Why, I ask, do you seek to save when you cannot seek to lose yourself in the process? But these things are too heavy in my mind, too hazy, and I prefer to learn and pray God forbid.

For the interested reader, I summarize the principles into four: Act on time; protect yourself; assess the situation; and sort your patient. I hope it is always this simple.

Hafsat and make beliefs
There was a lady from the National Emergency Management Agency, Hafsat Shuaib. She worked us through a session on Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. Of course, this session required simulations, which began with Amaize being asked to act as a conscious victim, who could hear the rescuer, and who responds to questions. He was chosen for his weight, the idea being that a heavier victim was more difficult to control. We were showed how to cover wounded areas, take care of the neck, keep a victim in a recovery position, place on a stretcher (or makeshift stretcher), and move to an ambulance. The key word was ‘improvise.’ Our journey will take us to uncertain places, conflict zones. There is no reason, despite our love for this place called Africa, to play down the fact that trouble exists in the spaces we are travelling to; it will be foolhardy to act otherwise. And given that we cannot extinguish the possibility of danger, we had to prepare for unforeseen contingencies. As such, our training sessions became necessary and cogent.

I was Hafsat’s second choice. There is a photo Tom made of Hafsat’s mouth separated from mine with a tube (unfortunately, everyone forgot the name of the tool at the time of writing – unserious students!) He has promised to publicize the scandal, saying she was kissing me! Geez! I am scared of the implications – there is a girl I have my eyes on.

In the third session, Dr Olaomi worked us through dealing with bleeding. By this time, God forgive us, most of us were carried away by hunger.

Hafsat delivering CPR to Emmanuel (by Tom Saater)

Hunger is a necessary evil
Hunger made us forget to take a photograph with Dr Olaomi and Hafsat. I must question why as humans  we need to go hungry, why we come to a point when our stomach twitch in anticipation, in revolt, and our heads make a U-Turn, saying I cannot process information…  FEED ME!

We had a group photograph with the signpost of the National Hospital as a background. And then we headed for food.

Over dinner, we discussed photographers in Nigeria, photography networks, and making money. There were Nigerian photographers generally considered to be arrogant, and gain-seeking.

I should point out that our conversation began after our meal.

Abuja: Wide and Wide
Rem Koolhas would find no ‘close’ in Abuja. There is Close in Lagos, with its explosive human bodies, compulsive survival lifestyle, and possibility of everything and anything. But Abuja, as I have seen, demands less fraternity.  There is a wide gulf between have and have-not, able and unable, who-is-who and who-is-not-who. In Abuja, a person cannot be both.  Options readily present themselves: live in the city centre or in the suburb. Drive in a car or take a taxi. Pay a rent of 40 million naira or own your house outside the main city. Own eight houses in Asokoro or own nothing.

I know this is obviously true of many other Nigerian cities. But in Abuja it is stamped with such obviousness that in one instant a person can see whether the city suits or is repulsive to such a person.

Unoma’s house in Asokoro, where we spent an hour after our meal, typifies the constant attempt to define and individualize. She was asked by Uche if she worked at the nearby Embassy of Hungary, to which she responded that she worked from her house. To work from one’s house is, I believe, the basic definition of artistic freedom. To make one’s house art, as Unoma has made hers, is a rare achievement. There are reasons to make this unattainable; life in wide, unfeeling spaces snuffs creativity, summarizes life into two great gulfs.

There is a plan to make photos tomorrow at the National Mosque, as suggested by Amaize and corroborated by Tom. The idea was borne out of the fact that the throng of worshippers who will gather for the Eid el Kabir festival will suffice as worthy subjects. What we see might make my assumptions of Abuja fall apart. I am hoping that when Unoma sees this we would have a conversation on Abuja life.

I am hoping that I will see Abuja in new light after this brief stay. And I am wont to think that perhaps Abuja is a thoroughfare for us, and we might not see as residents would.

IB 2011 team at the National Hospital (by Lucy Azubuike)

Abuja ! by Emmanuel Iduma

Nigeria - Tchad by Jumoke Sanwo (Day 1 IB 2011)

It was easy to believe, with the way we set out, that at the other end of the road a festival awaited us. Jude Anogwih did not help matters; he flagged down a Nescafe retailer and paid for coffee for everyone (later, while in the bus, we received an encouraging SMS from Jude. He is a sweet guy!). Then there was loud music, a lady who interviewed us from the Nigerian Television Authority (who said we had to begin our suffering right there), and the filming of our entry into the bus. Thinking of this in retrospect, I have come to believe that our journey to Abuja was a festival, a celebration of the first lap of our journey, a celebration of the beginning of a long, unpredictable journey.

Unpredictable, well, because, we set out behind schedule – few minutes before 10.00am. While setting off, Amaize warned the driver that the normal route would be heavy with traffic, advising that he go through Epe. He did not listen. We, who started out late, soon found ourselves trapped in Lagos traffic, which stretched into Ibadan.

I should point, right away, that we arrived our place of abode in Abuja at 1.45am. So, I am charged with the responsibility of telling what occurred between 10.00am and 1.45am. I find that it is easier – given how tired I feel while writing this – to make markers of the journey. I am hoping that this recording will create snapshots of the journey, for even the most able of eyes cannot see it all.

Sanni: Heedless driver
The bus, a blue Hiace bus, hired from a company which travels Lagos to Accra, had evangelistic adverts on its windows, and we grumbled that it would be impossible to make photos from the windows. But this was to be the least of our worries, as the driver soon proved very James Bond, slamming his brakes, making surprising moves. At a point, I felt I was being thrown into a pothole.

Jumoke and I were most vocal in our complaints. There were several excuses, which we were not going to accept – the roads, we were behind schedule. We argued that Sanni was a bad driver. His colleague, Charlie, repeatedly asked him to oblige us. He did not. After nightfall, our complains stopped.

Sanni had his way.

Which leads me to an interesting fact – Sanni and Charlie are Ghanaians, from Northern Ghana, and they spoke Hausa. Well, Charlie said it was pidgin Hausa, second to the one spoken in Nigeria. We mimicked their accent. I am hoping this does not become our ‘exchange habit’; we would certainly encounter more accents. Aside the improbability of being able to mimic each accent, there is the question of propriety – who wants his speech pattern mimicked, anyway?

The Guy who studied Mass Com
Ibadan, as always, was flung across seven hills, like broken china in the sun. The dirt of the town has always struck me as a leech-like feature. Who can predict when Ibadan will be separated from her dirt? Today’s Ibadan was really broken, and the people seemed in flight, tottering and grasping for some essence, which I presume arose from the coming holidays.

Ibadan slowed us down.

We stopped – Uche, Emeka, Amaize, Chidinma, and myself – to make photos on the road, while the car crawled at snail speed. (I am already making photos!) Uche and Emeka were at his best, squatting, running, bending. Which was why it was easy for a guy to accost Emeka, for reasons which I did not understand, speaking in a language that was equally imperceptible, declaring that he understood what we were doing, for he had studied Mass Communication. His peers, with cigarettes between their fingers, rusty voices, and reddened irises, advised us not to mind his words. I wondered what had led him to this point, where accosting strangers had become fashionable, cogent, rewarding.

There was another guy who winked at me twice while I made (or thought I made) photos. I took his wink in good faith; work had begun.

     Uche on the move. Iwo Road, Ibadan by Emeka Okereke (Day 1, IB 2011).

The Akara misdirection
I thought I knew the Ife-Ibadan expressway so well that I could be sure of the Akara joint. And just like me, Emeka and Jumoke could not tell which was the right joint, so that we ended up in a joint that promised akara in seconds, but had nothing ready.

It would not be until Akure before we found something to eat.  That would be our last misdirection; thank heavens.

The Diary Room, Questioning Art
One thing led to the other.

There was a long conversation between Uche and Jumoke on God and Christianity. Really, the conversation was too long to reproduce; it went the same way all God talks go – there’s a person who is not living the full Christian ‘life’ (Jumoke), and there are others advising her to push her spirituality (Uche and Amaize).

A few hours later, Amaize requested that the cameras come on, he wanted us to make a video recording. It is useful to point that Uche had already borrowed the idea of Big Brother’s Diary Room, such that we get to bare our mind in front of cameras daily, as we progress in the journey.

Amaize began with Jumoke, asking about her life and artistic practice, which went without event. But when it came to Kemi’s Q and A, things changed. She made a point about the absence of an encouragement for the ‘new’ in Nigerian photography. Emeka picked on her, stating that it is consistency, not labels (of classics and new) that defined and determined the career of a photographer. We all added our voices – Amaize being the most vocal, Kemi trying to defend her claims, Tom arguing in Emeka’s support, I saying something about how this was the same argument in the literati, Jumoke being asleep, Chidinma saying nothing.

Our interesting argument livened the journey somewhat, and I agree that it was essential since the clarity of our vision as artists is ensured by the clarity of our minds.

We have ID Cards that describes/defines us as artists. This is the first time in my life I have an ID Card as a writer. I am unsure about ‘artist.’

Lokoja’s demand
We left Lokoja at few minutes before 10.00pm, having arrived an hour earlier. We had been warned of robbers working ahead. I like to use ‘working’ because, truth be told, robbery is work. It is like saying: Stop Now! Men at Work!

The mystery surrounding our stop, as Amaize pointed out, was that no telephone calls were exchanged. Our bus was flagged down by someone (?), and Sanni reversed the bus, and we joined other passengers at the Lokoja park. There was small groove – D’Banj’s Oliver Twist played thrice, and I wished I could dance with only my legs.

Lokoja, from my earliest memories of travelling to Abuja, has always demanded stops. And we heeded its call, armed robbers or not.

There was no fanfare. We had been offered a place to stay by a friend, Akachukwu. He is, I must note, a great friend. Hotels are expensive in Abuja. A house for free is a miracle.

There is sleep to be slept.

Did I mention that Ray made me sit beside cakes? His birthday was last week and we had to travel with cakes. Seriously, Ray, that was torture, sitting beside cakes I did not eat.